The Edmonton Oilers should not expect provincial funding for a controversial – and costly – new downtown arena if a Wildrose Party government is elected in Alberta, according to its leader.
However, Danielle Smith told reporters Thursday that if she becomes premier on April 23, her party would gamble on hockey lotteries for the Oilers and the Calgary Flames as a means of generating millions each year for Alberta’s NHL franchises to funnel toward infrastructure upgrades and other initiatives.
“We would not provide funding to a new arena in Edmonton,” said Ms. Smith, adding she would be open to “working with the teams to develop a branded lottery.”
“We calculate that that would probably generate $5- to $10-million for the Edmonton team [annually] and if you calculate that out over 10, 20 years, it’s going to be significant dollars,” she said.
“It would allow them to reach the shortfall I believe and also give them an additional source of revenue on a go-forward basis for their other priorities,” she added.
Edmonton Oilers’ president Pat LaForge was caught off guard by lottery talk.
“First I’ve heard of it,” he said, “I really have no comment.”
Team owner Daryl Katz has been lobbying the city to put money into a new downtown arena that would also serve as the team’s home, replacing 38-year-old Rexall Place, the third-oldest rink in the NHL.
The project’s cost is estimated at $450-million, and the billionaire drug store mogul wants governments to foot half the bill – $125-million from the city, and up to $100-million from “other orders” of government, depending on what the final cost of an approved arena project is. They city also agreed to buy the land and contribute to infrastructure costs, such as a pedway and new LRT station, that cost an estimated $60-million more.
The facility would cover roughly four square blocks of area now occupied only by surface parking lots. The development would also include an office tower, hotel, retail development and casino.
The city and Mr. Katz have an agreement to move forward on the project, but are still hammering out details. Some councillors voted against the proposal, saying Mr. Katz should be paying more.
The $100-million hole in the funding formula begged the obvious question of whether the province or federal government would pay for it. Former Premier Ed Stelmach and, now, Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford have regularly found themselves answering questions about whether the province would kick in funding. Ms. Redford has said cities can use existing infrastructure grants on arenas but she won’t be offering special funding for what she nonetheless called a “tremendous” project.
“Our view is that because we provide infrastructure money to cities, to communities all across the province, if they have decided they want to use that money to support that project – that’s absolutely fine with us,” Ms. Redford said Thursday. She shot down the Wildrose plan, saying cities haven’t formally asked for a lottery.
“I think that we have enough funding in our system right now to allow for projects that matter to communities to be built,” Ms. Redford said, “... I’m not even really sure [a lottery]is something the communities are talking about anymore... they’re not [asking]”
The City of Edmonton hasn’t asked for a meeting with the province since Ms. Redford’s election as party leader, but will be looking to the province for some type of funding once the project’s final cost is sorted out. Mayor Stephen Mandel’s office said, through a spokeswoman, a lottery has not been considered.
“At this point, it’s too soon to speak to either tools or amounts,” the mayor said in a statement, “We know there will be a funding gap but the final amounts and appropriate funding tools needed are still to be determined.”
A spokesperson for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi declined comment on the Wildrose initiative, saying he needed more time to analyze policies.
Ken King, president of the Calgary Flames, has publicly mused about a new arena to replace the Scotiabank Saddledome, which was landmark of the 1988 Winter Olympics located on the Stampede Grounds. But nothing concrete is in the works.
In response to the Wildrose proposal, Mr. King said the issue has been raised periodically “over the years in discussion with the Alberta Gaming Commission – nothing specific.”
This isn’t the first time a hockey lottery has been contemplated.
Ten years ago, the Flames and Oilers engaged in a joint lottery, selling tickets with the hope of raising revenue for their organizations. At the time, both teams had failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs and were handcuffed by a declining Canadian dollar. Lottery ticket sales were poor and reportedly resulted in the two teams making $250,000 apiece.
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